For decades, illicit drug makers have been attempting to skirt drug laws by altering the chemical composition of illegal drugs in order to change the chemicals that make the drugs illegal. While the new compounds usually do not remain legal for very long after their discovery, the makers just alter the chemical until it is legal again. Over the past few years, two synthetic drugs, spice and bath salts, have wreaked havoc on their users.
Illicit drugs are generally categorized as synthetic, derivative, or natural. Marijuana, in its plant form, is a natural drug; cocaine, as it is synthesized from a plant is a derivative; and drugs like bath salts, are typically completely synthetic, having been made from mixing synthetic chemical compounds. While synthesized drugs like cocaine, LSD, and ecstasy, are known to be illegal, synthetic drugs, even the unknown and "legal" ones, can still get you arrested.
Bath Salts and Spice
While lawmakers are constantly passing new laws to ban the chemical compounds used to make bath salts and spice, new legal compounds continue to be made to get around the new laws. Bath salts are sold in various types of packaging, and in varying forms, and can have a wide range of effects for users. Spice or K2, which is marketed as a marijuana alternative, is an innocuous plant or organic material that gets coated in different chemicals that can have devastating effects for users when smoked or ingested. Frequently, the packaging will explain that the products are not intended for human consumption.
While some of the substances themselves may technically be legal, the effects on users can cause them to violate the law in unpredictable ways. While gathering hard data on the wide array of substances is difficult, anecdotal evidence suggests that users tend to have violent propensities. Also, because laws have banned many particular types of synthetic drugs and law enforcement has been alerted to these new illicit substances, even having one that technically doesn't violate the law can still get you arrested, booked into custody, and maybe even charged with a crime, as officers wait for results to be returned from the drug lab.
Analogues and Anything Else
Under the law, selling a substance that is intended to mimic the look or effects of illegal drugs is illegal, however, taking and possessing these substances may not necessarily be illegal. However, it should be noted that most state laws governing public intoxication do not distinguish how the user became intoxicated. So no matter how you got intoxicated, you can be arrested for being intoxicated in public. Additionally, if you are found in possession of analogues or legal highs, as discussed above, you can still be arrested and charged while waiting for lab results.
In recent years, States have been passing laws that more generally prohibit legal synthetic highs in order to avoid the cat and mouse game that has been played in the past between lawmakers and drug makers. However, as explained by a chemist interviewed by Vice, taking regular drugs is likely much safer than taking a new, untested, unknown, "legal" synthetic drug.